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Who did you study with...re-visited


headcase
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Many moons ago on this forum there was a thread discussing a sort of line of succession in organ studies. There were some fascinating lists of tutors, one in particular IIRC which got back to JSB in about six or seven steps... but I've been unable to locate the thread. Is there anyone more skilled at using the search engine who can point me in the right direction ?

 

Thanks. H.

 

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The following is at least tenuously connected to this thread:

 

I recall reading somewhere that there were two branches of ex-pupils who could trace their teachers back to César Franck. Apparently both sides handed-down rather different accounts of how Franck preferred his music to be played. These included widely- diverging metronome speeds, different observance of notes communes, some questions over the veracity of the registration indications and a number of other features.

 

However, each branch swore that their version of the 'received wisdom' was the correct one.

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A young conductor, a protegé of Leonard Bernstein, was conducting Chichester Psalms in a concert and Bernstein came to the concert. Afterwards Bernstein said "It was ok, but all the tempos were wrong!" The conductor protested "But I took all the tempos from your recording, maestro." Bernstein asked him which recording and when told said "No, don't listen to that recording, listen to the other one!"

 

I’m sure if we had recordings of JS Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mahler from across their working lives there would be similar differences to those mentioned in the reports of Franck by PCND.

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To be honest I find these "lines of succession" faintly risible. I am quite sure my playing bears no resemblance whatsoever to that of John Goss. At least I very much hope it doesn't and whether it does or not I really couldn't care less. Sidney Campbell had lessons for Harold Darke and Ernest Bullock. I don't know anything about Bullock's playing, but he played very differently from Darke. He had far too independent a musical intellect to be anyone's clone. When I was young I used to be able to imitate Cambell's style accurately, but at this remove in time I couldn't possibly do so with any confidence (even if I could play to the standard I once did). I do remember, though, being struck by how perfectly John Porter captured it in his Priory LP (since reissued) of music by Harris, Campbell and others. Campbell would have been delighted.

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I am personally quite convinced that, if we had any recordings of JSB playing, most organists today would find his playing boring.

 

I am quite prepared to believe that you might, but could you possibly go on to explain why? Would it be anything to do with key actions, stop actions, coupler actions, the need for human blowers, excessive reverberation in larger buildings or perhaps yet other issues unconnected with the mechanics?

 

I remain interested in your view.

 

CEP

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It is more to do with playing the music than with the instruments, although obviously the instruments have some implications for performance. No one knows how Bach played, but such hints as there are do not support some assumptions often made about how his music should sound. I have given my views on this at various times the past and I have no intention of dragging it all up again here. This, however, from another forum, may give food for thought about manual changes in fugues.
http://www.abrsm.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=55804

 

There are plenty of people who have a lot more expertise in these matters than I do, but, unfortunately, they don't post on these forums.

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Thank you for these perspectives.

 

You also said "there are plenty of people who have a lot more expertise in these matters than I do, but, unfortunately, they don't post on these forums".

 

I agree it is unfortunate. For better or worse, and whether we like it or not, social media (into which I lump forums such as this one) are the most important and most direct way of engaging with generations younger than I. There has recently been some discussion as to how to ensure the future of the organ, which of course must mean that youngsters must connect with it. In turn this means that those who are the movers and shakers and who would command the most respect perhaps ought to make themselves more visible in these media. I can understand their reticence because I do not find much of it to my liking either in terms of it being a comfortable communications channel, but that's simply a generational thing.

 

I applaud the way the IAO is trying to address the matter, particularly in their journal 'Organists' Review'. And we ought to note that not all of the movers and shakers at the top of the organ tree are completely absent from the social media scene, but currently they still seem to represent a small minority.

 

There are many among the membership of this forum alone whose contributions would, I am sure, be widely appreciated if they were minded to inflate their post tally beyond zero! At the same time there is at least a chance they would be helping to ensure a more robust future for the instrument around which they have entwined their lives.

 

CEP

 

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I learnt, initially from my local church organist who was a pupil of Sumsion at Gloucester Cathedral. Then subsequently from Paul Trepte who was a pupil of Donald Hunt who had been articled clerk to Sumsion at Gloucester Cathedral. So I've always felt an influence back to Sumsion. Not as good as JSB, but then we must make do...

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Surprised that I can trace my lineage back through Howells to CV Stanford with organ, and back to Schumann for piano.

 

As with homeopathy, I suspect the influence becomes increasingly dilute as the generations pass so there remains but little of the original genius. ;)

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Surprised that I can trace my lineage back through Howells to CV Stanford with organ

 

 

But Stanford taught Howells composition, not organ. Howells's organ teachers were Herbert Brewer (at Gloucester Cathedral) and Walter Parratt (at the RCM). I'm not sure Howells had any organ pupils.

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But Stanford taught Howells composition, not organ. Howells's organ teachers were Herbert Brewer (at Gloucester Cathedral) and Walter Parratt (at the RCM). I'm not sure Howells had any organ pupils.

 

I'm sure they would distance themselves from me whether it be for organ playing OR composition.

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Frankly, I can't see the point in reciting who has taught down as far as oneself. If so I could claim pedigree back to both Ivor Atkins and Flor Peeters but can't see the point of it and it isn't even interesting or reliable. My most recent three teachers all had lessons with Gillian Weir and they all quoted her as saying quit different and contradictory things. Surely the important thing is what we do with what we've been taught; do we handle what we've been taught with care, further research of our own and, at all times, respect for the integrity of the music itself? Do we ask ourselves and our teachers the right questions?

 

So far as engaging young people with the organ is concerned there is more properly organised expert outreach for young organist than ever before, and it comes at a very high standard - Oundle, The Organ Scholar Experience, the vast opportunities for organ scholarships, the RCO, trips by music colleges to hear and play foreign organs, courses organised by people like Nigel Allcoat, to name but a few that come instantly to mind. I cannot think of any other period when it has been so easy for young people to learn to play the organ, and get vast and varied experience in the process, to a very high professional standard. If you read the reports and photos of these activities they certainly seem to be full to capacity with very young and enthusiastic players. This country is currently turning out good numbers of very, very fine young players. Whether many of them will ever want to play regularly in church is another matter and it won't be their fault or that of other musicians if they don't.

 

If you want to encourage young players don't let any of them anywhere near a local organists' association because nothing will put them off quicker or more effectively and I really mean this, seriously.

 

Malcolm

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Surely the important thing is what we do with what we've been taught

 

I know Malcolm takes his teaching very seriously, so I am probably being impertinent in taking issue, but I would say not so much "what", but "how". I know that everyone is individual in the way they learn and respond to teaching, but I have never been convinced by teachers who impose their interpretations on their pupils. It may work for some, but it never did for me. Fortunately I was never subjected to it very much. Far better, in my book, to develop the pupil's ability to respond to the music in his/her way. You must certainly suggest ways in which the pupil may (or ought to) feel a passage, but if the pupil can't feel that expression personally from within you are flogging a dead horse.

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I certainly didn't post seriously, which is why I only expended a couple of sentences over it. The gist being that illustrious beginnings can still lead to an indifferent outcome.

Perhaps I would be a better organist now had I started earlier, but frankly, I wasn't interested; I was more into 3" platform boots and passing for 18 to get into the disco.

The organ will still flourish if people come to it in middle age without worrying if they are too old to bother.

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I know Malcolm takes his teaching very seriously, so I am probably being impertinent in taking issue, but I would say not so much "what", but "how". I know that everyone is individual in the way they learn and respond to teaching, but I have never been convinced by teachers who impose their interpretations on their pupils. It may work for some, but it never did for me. Fortunately I was never subjected to it very much. Far better, in my book, to develop the pupil's ability to respond to the music in his/her way. You must certainly suggest ways in which the pupil may (or ought to) feel a passage, but if the pupil can't feel that expression personally from within you are flogging a dead horse.

 

A good point, Vox.

 

I believe that Ralph Downes encouraged his pupils to take lessons from other teaches. He would tell them "I am only one side of the coin, you know."

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On the other hand, as a student I resided for a time with a girl from Hong Kong, a pianist, who was quite adamant that personal feeling had no place at all in performance. Every graduation in dynamics, every subtle rubato, every nuance of expression - everything had to be calculated clinically and without feeling so that every performance could be guaranteed to be identical. An oddly soulless view, I thought.

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On the other hand, as a student I resided for a time with a girl from Hong Kong, a pianist, who was quite adamant that personal feeling had no place at all in performance. Every graduation in dynamics, every subtle rubato, every nuance of expression - everything had to be calculated clinically and without feeling so that every performance could be guaranteed to be identical. An oddly soulless view, I thought.

 

Tell me about it.

 

I have a number of Hong Kong Chinese pupils, mostly studying the higher grade ABRSM pieces.

 

There is an additional problem: for the most part, they have been taught to play anything which has semiquaver notation very quickly (regardless of whether or not their keyboard technique is sufficiently well-developed - and let alone whether or not this speed is stylistically appropriate for the pieces in question). This causes immense problems in Bach fugues, for example. However, I have also realised that, nine times out of ten, they have not really been taught to play scales and arpeggios correctly - sometimes only scant attention has been paid to these by their former teachers in Hong Kong. I also have to try to persuade them not to listen to the CDs which usually come with the copies of the grade examination books which they purchase. Otherwise, they hear someone like Joanna MacGregor playing through the pieces, generally rather quickly, and are then convinced that they have to play the chosen pieces exactly like this, in order even to pass the examination.

 

We had an examiner at school recently who had undertaken examining tours of the Far East and had expressed concern about both the quality and style of much of the teaching there.

As Vox observes, with some pupils, it has been necessary to spend a fair proportion of some lessons playing the pieces myself, in order to attempt to give the students a rather different reference-point for their own performances. Debussy is a particular nightmare. Attempting to instill a sense of rubato and overall elasticity, as it were, is often like trying to teach a dog to speak Norwegian.

 

However, over the last few years, I have had some success in these areas. However, I had to speak quite sternly at least two students at the end of term and try to persuade them not to have lessons in Hong Kong over the summer. Otherwise I can virtually guarantee that everything which I have achieved over the last academic year will be thrown to the winds by some crazy middle-aged spinster who will want her pupils to play everything at express speeds - and usually with a strong forte touch throughout.

 

Gah.

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.................................................... Attempting to instill a sense of rubato and overall elasticity, as it were, is often like trying to teach a dog to speak Norwegian.

 

However, over the last few years, I have had some success in these areas .........................................

 

 

 

Hunden min kan bare bjeffe i norsk

 

 

 

Sorry - I couldn't resist it - and, having examined in the Far East, I agree with almost all you have said!

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Okay, I am going to take a guess at: "Look at me - I can bark in Norwegian."

 

But what does it actually mean?

 

Good guess - but not quite right!

 

My dog can only bark in Norwegian!

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